December 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

It`s the design, Stupid

But the only thing that really matters to shoppers who land on a retail web site is how well it works in helping them find and buy the products they want.

James Carville, the brilliant political campaign strategist, became ensconced in American political folklore-and helped get Bill Clinton elected President in 1992-by hanging a sign at Clinton’s Little Rock campaign headquarters that read: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” It was there to remind the campaign staff that American Presidential elections tend to be won and lost over the current state of the U.S. economy. So, while George the First was basking in high poll ratings following his victory in Iraq One, Carville had his eye trained on the nation’s eroding economic numbers, which he knew could put the Comeback Kid in the White House. It’s a funny thing that pocketbook issues trump all others in elections even though politicians, their staffers and the media often focus on everything else.

There’s something of a parallel to this in retail web sites. E-retailers spend a lot of time and money marketing their web sites and Google’s profits are proof enough of that. They also focus on site content, product fulfillment, the type of merchandise they want to sell online and how good their site looks. But the only thing that really matters to shoppers who land on their site is how well it works in helping them find and buy the products they want.

It seems e-retailers would do well to post a Carvillesque sign in their headquarters that reads: “It’s the Design, Stupid.” It would remind all of their employees that web shoppers are a very different breed of customers from store shoppers. The latter really like to shop, to stroll through the aisles hoping to discover products or deals that grab them. There’s a reason stores don’t have electronic search systems at the door and are designed like mazes-easy to enter, hard to leave and difficult to find your way to exactly what you’re looking for.

Web shoppers know what they are looking for and have no patience with web sites that don’t get them to the right item in a hurry. That puts a premium on web sites that are designed to be functional-easy to navigate, search and examine products. In short they must be designed for easy and effective use.

That’s what the cover story in this issue is all about. It’s why we are holding the Internet Retailer Web Design ‘08 Conference in Miami on Jan. 30-Feb. 1. And it’s why we just published the Internet Retailer Guide to Retail Web Site Design & Usability. You can get all the details you need about our new conference and guide at I promise they will be easy to find and buy online.

And judging by the way both are selling, e-retailers are starting to grasp the fundamental role that practical web design and functionality play in the success of their e-commerce operations. We expect to have about 800 paid conference attendees at Web Design ‘08, which will make it the largest e-retailing show of this winter season in terms of paid registrants. And we sold 100 copies of the new Guide to Retail Web Design & Usability in the first four hours of sending out the e-mail introducing the product to our readership. What a great way to start the New Year.

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